UB Launches Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program In Rehabilitation Science

By Lois Baker

Release Date: August 6, 1998 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- More people are living with physical disabilities than at any time in history, thanks to medical advances of the 20th century. But the number of rehabilitation specialists qualified to expand the science and develop new treatment options to serve this growing population hasn't kept pace.

The School of Health Related Professions at the University at Buffalo is launching a singular interdisciplinary doctoral program in rehabilitation science this fall to help fill this void. Its aim is to increase the cadre of specialists qualified to conduct research and teach the science of rehabilitation at the graduate level.

"The market is very thin for Ph.D.-trained faculty in rehabilitation fields," said Barry Eckert, Ph.D., dean of the UB School of Health Related Professions. "UB has excellent facilities for preparing rehabilitation faculty and researchers to fill this need."

UB's program departs from the norm by providing a science-based curriculum that cuts across traditional health-care boundaries. It brings together specialists from three of UB's health sciences schools -- Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Nursing and Health Related Professions.

Faculty from the departments of Occupational Therapy; Physical Therapy, Exercise and Nutrition Sciences; Communicative Disorders and Sciences; Rehabilitation Medicine, and Speech Pathology, as well as from several nursing subspecialties, form the program's academic core.

William P. Mann, Ph.D., professor and chair of the UB Department of Occupational Therapy who will direct the program, said the critical shortage of doctorally trained professionals in rehabilitation fields has been fueled by advances in health care that have enabled persons to survive circumstances -- such as extreme prematurity, traumatic injury and chronic disease and conditions -- that would have been fatal a decade ago. These persons often survive with disabilities.

"At the same time, we have experienced changes in societal attitudes toward persons with disabilities that emphasize accommodation and integration," he said. "We have to find ways to do that."

Pediatric rehabilitation will be one focus of the new program. The School of Health Related Professions has received a $500,000, four-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education to support doctoral students in this area.

Other areas of funded rehabilitation research open to doctoral candidates include assessing the amount and type of a person's functional disability; studying patterns of disability and their progress; restoration and maintenance of skill and function; prevention of dysfunction, and adaptation of persons with impairments to disability, loss of function and societal limitations.

UB has one of the largest sponsored-research programs on disability in the U.S. Its facilities include two federally funded Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers -- one on aging and one on technology evaluation and transfer -- as well as the Center for Functional Assessment Research, where the Uniform Data System (UDSmr) for Medical Rehabilitation was developed.

The UDSmr's tools for measuring disability -- the Functional Independence Measure, or FIM, along with the WeeFIM for children -- are standards used throughout the world to assess functional ability and measure recovery of persons undergoing rehabilitation. UDSmr serves as a data repository for more than 1,300 rehabilitation programs across the globe and also functions as an education, credentialing and consultation center for its members.

Research on speech and hearing disabilities is carried out through UB's Department of Communicative Disorders and Sciences and its Center for Hearing and Deafness. Specialty research areas include child language development, language production, speech production and perception, and causes of hearing loss and new treatment possibilities.

The doctoral program will accept the equivalent of eight full-time students per year, with the first year's enrollment already full. Nadine Fisher, Ed.D., assistant clinical professor of rehabilitation medicine, physiology, and medicine, will coordinate the program with the assistance of an interdisciplinary steering committee.

Steering committee members are Frank Cerny, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of the Department of Physical Therapy, Exercise and Nutrition Sciences; Dale Fish, Ph.D., associate dean of academic affairs, School of Health Related Professions, and director of the physical therapy graduate program; Carl Granger, M.D., professor and interim chair of the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine; Brenda Haughey, Ph.D., associate professor of nursing and social and preventive medicine and head of graduate nurse education, and Rosemary Lubinski, Ph.D., associate professor of communicative disorders and sciences.